For Cpl. Joe Garcia of the Seal Beach Police Department, this is a cause close to his heart.
Garcia’s 4-year old son, Joey, was diagnosed with autism at age 2.
“Once you find out your child has autism, you don’t know what to do,” Garcia said. “The resources are out there, but my wife and I didn’t know what they were.”
With April being Autism Awareness Month, Garcia wanted to find a way to bring attention to autism spectrum disorder, which affects one in 68 children, according to the latest statistics reported by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Knowing the success of the Pink Patch Project, a public safety initiative that brings attention to breast cancer through the sale of specially designed patches, Garcia’s idea was to do something similar for autism awareness.
In April 2017, Garcia presented his patch-selling campaign to Seal Beach Police Chief Joe Miller and the agency’s command staff.
“Obviously, I supported it 100 percent,” Miller said. “It’s for a good cause. That is the reason for it. We are out in the public every day. In addition to regular policing every day, it’s something we should be doing. It’s a simple thing but it sends a big message.”
Garcia collaborated with National Emblem and First Tactical to design the Seal Beach Police Autism Awareness Patch.
He showed a prototype of the patch to Liz Camarena, a jailer at Seal Beach PD whose 10-year-old son, Emmanuel, is autistic.
“It was beautiful,” said Camarena, who has been involved in the campaign. “I still get butterflies in my stomach when I look at it. I knew immediately I had to be part of anything that is involved with this.”
Since the campaign began in April, every sworn officer and civilian employee in the department has been wearing the patch, which is an altered version of the official Seal Beach police patch.
The patch is outlined in blue, the color representing the Light It Up Blue campaign for autism awareness.
The letters spelling out “Seal Beach P0lice” are multicolored, symbolizing the diversity of people on the autism spectrum.
A puzzle piece nestled between the words “autism awareness” represents the complexity of the autism spectrum disorder.
Garcia ordered 500 patches, which sold for $10 each and quickly sold out.
The Seal Beach Police Officers Association purchased another 500 patches to keep the drive going and expects to raise about $4,000, which will be donated to the Seal Beach-based Autism Partnership.
The nonprofit offers a variety of services to individuals on the autism spectrum, to their families, and to schools.
“We were incredibly touched that he would think of us,” said Ani Waks, the Autism Partnership’s site director. “We are thrilled to be part of the collaboration with the Seal Beach Police Department. We are passionate about what we do. We can see that he is equally as passionate.”
After the campaign was underway, word spread through social media.
Patches have been sold around the country and as far away as Austria, Garcia said.
He’s been approached by people on the street who see the patch and want to support the cause, and other police agencies have committed to join in next year.
Garcia plans to design a new patch every year and to support different causes related to autism awareness with the money raised.
“It feels good to have something that we can share with the community about our children,” Camarena said.
For more information about the Seal Beach Police Department’s Autism Awareness Patch campaign, contact Cpl. Joe Garcia at JFGarcia@sealbeachca.gov.